At great risk of appearing unneccesarily sycophantic, I need to say that Mark Pesce‘s post, Whatever Happened to the Book, is clever, unusually clever, even for Mark. Everything that currently intellectually interests (read obsesses me) about literature and our hyperconnected age is explored.
Please read it closely and tell your friends, especially if they are teachers still learning.
Here’s a taste, I particularly enjoyed the third section:So what of Aristotle? What does this mean for the narrative? It is easy to conceive of a world where non-fiction texts simply dissolve into the universal sea of texts. But what about stories? From time out of mind we have listened to stories told by the campfire. The Iliad, The Mahabharata, and Beowolf held listeners spellbound as the storyteller wove the tale. For hours at a time we maintained our attention and focus as the stories that told us who we are and our place in the world traveled down the generations. Will we lose all of this? Can narratives stand up against the centrifugal forces of hypertext? Authors and publishers both seem assured that whatever happens to non-fiction texts, the literary text will remain pure and untouched, even as it becomes a wholly electronic form. The lure of the literary text is that it takes you on a singular journey, from beginning to end, within the universe of the author’s mind. There are no distractions, no interruptions, unless the author has expressly put them there in order to add tension to the plot. A well-written literary text – and even a poorly-written but well-plotted ‘page-turner’ – has the capacity to hold the reader tight within the momentum of linearity. Something is a ‘page-turner’ precisely because its forward momentum effectively blocks the centrifugal force. We occasionally stay up all night reading a book that we ‘couldn’t put down’, precisely because of this momentum. It is easy to imagine that every literary text which doesn’t meet this higher standard of seduction will simply fail as an electronic book, unable to counter the overwhelming lure of the medium.
Below are a few unformulated reflections. I intend to write a ‘proper’ reflective piece about ‘the book’ and possible futures.
Perhaps, because this topic is obsessing me at the moment – colleagues and friends would have noted my reactionary but concerted efforts recently to read more books/novels/fiction - I feel, after reading this twice, I want to know what ‘will’ happen to the concept of the book even more.
Will the ‘literary text…remain pure and untouched, even as it becomes a wholly electronic form’ – one part of me desperately hopes this is the case, like painting or sculpture.
We all love hypertext and many of our ereaders take little or no advantage of the medium. It is true what Mark says about the ‘economic purposes of publishers’ meaning that they will want to publish ‘dead texts’ in the ‘light’ of their ereader platforms. However, one cannot agree with ‘it does not make the electronic book an intrinsically alluring object’. The Kindle, in spite of its limitations is ‘alluring’ to many readers for a host of reasons that Mark dismisses. Primarily the ubiquity, one can download quickly a new release and carry many texts around. I know, from chats with luddite colleagues that, bound in leather, it appeals to traditional lovers of literature but techie types respond well too. There are issues and our cultural publishing industries need to adapt, or even better, innovate quickly.
Ironically, or maybe sadly, I’d like Mark to answer in a 140 characters, ‘what happened’. There is something not quite right about the framing of the piece, as all this has not quite, ‘happened’, not quite, it is all in the process of becoming.
More later…after I have chatted, perhaps with you, readers of this blog.
Read Write Web recently posted a story that I thought would garner more comments. I suspect it only had three, as most people agree with Europe’s 17 Golden Rules for Keeping Safe on Social Networks but are breaking some of them out of neccessity.
This is what I mean. The following three ‘European rules’
are the ones I break. Do you?
1. I use my professional DET email address, not because I want to particularly but because my other email address are filtered at work. Years ago it was no problem to access Yahoo, Hotmail etc. but the SIBE ended all that in 2006. It is not that I want to access during work time, it is just that it makes sense to be able to do so if you need, so since 2006, I have used my professional email address for basically everything.
2. When I started using the internet, in 1996, pseudonyms were all anyone seemed to use. Nowadays, I do not know many people who continue to do this exclusively.
3. Now this is challenging and I’d like to hear from anyone who is managing this separation of the various worlds of their life effectively. I gave up on it years ago for a number of reasons but mostly, it was just impossible anyway. I think that rejecting the Facebook ‘friend request’ from work or a business colleague may have other interpersonal consequences. I routinely ’ignore’ with students for reasons explained here. You may choose to do this for a colleague but the person would really have to bug you. Privacy setting are the key for most, no doubt about it. I suspect that it all depends on the stage of life one is at and that need for privacy depends on lifestyle and the type of employment.
I think we all are learning as the era unfolds. The above European suggestions are sensible but for many, just too unwieldy and difficult to carry out. The more one has ‘an identity’ online the more it is possible to piece together the complete person. However, I suspect, that identity theft is more easily done to someone with a limited online life than a person with a complete profile. Agree?
Should we place the European advice in context considering the history of the 20th century?
Do Australians, with a continent for a country and a very different history, for better or worse, have a less paranoid, more reckless attitude towards online safety?
The following passage, from Tim O’Reilly‘s musings on the question, Pattern Recognition, made me reflect about the challenges of staying ‘educated’ and being and ‘educator’ in our ever-shifting culture:
“It used to be the case that there was a canon, a body of knowledge shared by all educated men and women. Now, we need the skills of a scout, the ability to learn, to follow a trail, to make sense out of faint clues, and to recognize the way forward through confused thickets. We need a sense of direction that carries us onward through the wood despite our twists and turns. We need “soft eyes” that take in everything we see, not just what we are looking for.
The information river rushes by. Usenet, email, the world wide web, RSS, twitter: each generation carrying us faster than the one before. But patterns remain.
You can map a river as well as you can map a mountain or a wood. You just need to remember that the sandbars may have moved the next time you come by.”
This is at the heart of the challenge for schools. We do need to ‘map’ and assist students chart their courses but, it is fundamental to our role, that we keep remembering, the map is not necessarily the territory. *
I continue to enjoy daily missives from Seth Godin, ostensibly an advertising and business ‘guru’, increasingly the source of some practical, coherent thinking about the impact of the internet on society. His latest blog post, about libraries, illustrates the point made by O’Reilly:
Once again, the net turns things upside down. The information is free now. No need to pool tax money to buy reference books. What we need to spend the money on are leaders, sherpas and teachers who will push everyone from kids to seniors to get very aggressive in finding and using information and in connecting with and leading others.
Godin’s notion of a ‘sherpa’ guiding others to the top of a well-known territory works for me. Funnily enough, although it more poignant for me than I care to detail, this made me think of a Michael Leunig cartoon, from many years ago, that really impacted on me significantly at a critical juncture in my life.
Learning is similar. Triumphs have a way of just leading the thoughtful learner to more questing, often with a nagging sense that there’s just nowhere near enough time to explore all that fascinates (or is needed).
What mountains to climb then? Is that the question a skilful teacher or librarian will be able to help their students understand, as they ascend?
Enough of the sherpa thing.
The map has changed. The internet has changed the way we think, as we envision and navigate the unfolding text of our culture. The river will always have new sandbars; it flows rapidly. We need to be mindful that our old maps do not flush students into an ocean that is no longer there.